Christian PR and Marketing

April 19, 2006

The New York Times has an excellent profile on Larry Ross, "arguably the top public relations man for Christian clients in America." Here are a few highlights:

But when you speak to Ross for even a short length of time, it becomes clear that he sees himself as serving more than Rick Warren — or Billy Graham, or the men's ministry Promise Keepers, or films like "The Passion of the Christ" (he has represented them all). The Kingdom of God itself is a client of sorts. Publicity, marketing and branding are his ministry.

... Ross's religion is conspicuously central to his work and life — our second meeting, with his entire staff, started with a prayer — and that is one of the things that draw clients to him. "We're church guys, O.K.?" David Chrzan, Rick Warren's chief of staff, told me. "Media is a totally different animal to us." Chrzan says that Ross has been able to help Warren by providing access to and connections within the world of mainstream media — and also through his ability to spin various situations into, well, Christian parables.

... Perhaps the most intensive training that Ross offers is his "media and spokesperson" sessions. These can last as long as two days and usually include several mock interviews, which are taped. Ross encourages his clients to engage the media, but he wants to prepare them for worst-case encounters, so he administers tough questioning. To loosen clients up, he shows them an old "Bob Newhart" episode in which a talk-show host suddenly turns on Newhart. "It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen," Ross says. He advises clients to avoid ecclesiastical language when addressing the mainstream ("Somebody talks about the Holy Ghost or the Army of God — that sounds like a revolution and it's coming out of Iran," says Lawrence Swicegood, who has worked for Ross and DeMoss) and to use metaphors because they stick in people's minds.

... In some ways, Ross finds it easy to reconcile the sacred and the profane. Part of the evangelical approach is to be "in the culture but not of it," and it has been argued that Ross's profession has its antecedents in the work of Jesus himself.

... But Ross seems to be mostly at peace with his role and described it to me one afternoon this way: after invoking a biblical story about Moses' engagement in a lengthy battle for the children of Israel, he said: "Moses stood there on top of a cliff, and as long as he held up his arms, the children of Israel won. Well, after a while he got tired, so there were two men that came and held up Moses' arms so they could win the battle. That's my job — to hold up the arms of the man of God, like Billy Graham or Rick Warren, in the media."
It is great to see attention such as this to the importance of Christians being careful and savvy with what they say. While most of us do not need our own Larry Ross, we can all use his tactics and principles.

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